Despite representing the most Trump-friendly state in America, Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) has stubbornly been his own man in Congress.
Jones certainly touts his bipartisan work with Republicans, but he has also voted against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation and voted to convict President Trump during the Senate’s February impeachment trial.
“He’s going to be the senator he wanted,” said Alabama Democratic strategist Zac McCrary. “He’s not going to twist himself into a pretzel, he’s going to do his own thing.”
If Jones wins a very tough race for his reelection, he plans to go his own way even if there’s a Democratic administration headed up by former Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime friend of Jones’s.
“I think people know I’m not a rubber stamp for Donald Trump, but I’m not going to be a rubber stamp for my friend Joe Biden,” Jones told Vox in a recent interview. “He knows that; he and I have talked about that.”
Democrats have expanded the number of paths they have to flipping the Senate. If they manage to get a trifecta, with Biden in the White House and House Democrats keeping their majority, Jones says the first thing that must be tackled is the economic fallout from Covid-19. Though unemployment numbers are falling, millions of people are still out of work in the United States, and the economic crisis has disproportionately hit workers of color.
“I still believe our first priority is going to be to get out of this health care, economic, and racial inequality crisis that we find ourself in,” Jones said. “At some point, as we get on the back end, we’ve got to start focusing on the economy. That’s going to involve federal government programs to some extent — putting federal dollars in infrastructure and roads and bridges and schools. Broadband is going to be a key issue.”
Vox spoke with Jones about whether he’d be willing to eliminate the filibuster if Republicans are in the minority and hold up bills, his surprise 2017 special election win, how he plans to replicate it even in a state where Trump remains popular, the new wave of Democratic candidates in the South — and why he rejects the term “Southern Democrat.”
“We had a solid Democratic South in name only,” Jones told Vox. “It was never solid Democrat, it was a bunch of different factions of something called the Democratic Party. I think Democrats for too long in the South decided they really weren’t going to be Democrats and stand up for working people.”
Our interview is below, edited for length and clarity.
You surprised folks in 2017 with your special election win. But many people in both parties assume Alabama is simply too Trump-friendly and too Republican for you to win again. Is there something you know that they don’t?
Sen. Doug Jones
Yeah, there’s a lot that I know that they don’t. I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve seen the changes that Alabama has gone through, I see the changes that we’re in the midst of now, and I know what’s going on on the ground. Alabamians have always had an independent streak. They vote for a president that they like, but they also vote for a senator that they like. They vote for a senator that’s going to have their back and not necessarily the president of the United States. We’ve seen that throughout in our history in Alabama.
What I think we’re seeing now is just a seismic shift in the way people are looking at their senators, their members of Congress. We’ve got demographic shifts, we’ve got age differences, folks that have come up a different way are seeing different things happening in the world. And so what they’re looking at now — and I think we started this in 2017 — is that people are looking at issues and who can best represent them to actually get things done in Washington, DC.
And that’s where we have a huge advantage because we have represented farmers, we’ve represented teachers and health care professionals. A member of [the] Armed Services [Committee], I’m strong on military defense. So we’ve been able to truly represent one Alabama, throughout my two and a half years, almost going on three now, as the United States senator. And therein lies the big difference.
When it comes to your record in the Senate, I’m curious how you’ve decided to pick your battles on certain issues. You certainly have a bipartisan track record working with Republicans, but you’ve also taken some tough votes on impeachment and [confirming Supreme Court Justice Brett] Kavanaugh. There are times when you’ve been a reliable vote for the Democratic caucus. What part of the Democratic caucus do you see yourself in?
I think people tend to see this as a loyalty test for either Democrats or Republicans, and I don’t see it that way at all. I don’t pick and choose battles. I have votes that come to me on the floor of the Senate that Mitch McConnell picks for me, and some of those are tougher votes than others. Not because of the politics, but simply because it requires a great deal of research, a lot of work on our part to do what I think is best.
[My] Senate staff knows that they are to look at these issues, the pros and cons, and we will weigh those; we will argue with each other. But at the end of the day, we’re going to do what I believe is in the best interest of the people of Alabama, and do what I believe is consistent with my principles. Sometimes that means I am not voting with a majority of the Democrats; sometimes it means I am. It just really is going to depend on the issues.
Having said that, we like to get out front on some things. We’ve been very vocal about health care and protecting rural health care, and trying to expand Medicaid in Alabama. I’ve got 21 bills I co-sponsored with Republicans as a lead [sponsor]. Those are the things we got out front for, but those are the easy things for me — I see a need in the state, I believe that there’s people on the other side of the aisle, senators and colleagues, that would agree with me. We find that common ground, and we made those 21 bills happen.
If you are reelected in November, and Democrats are able to flip the Senate and Joe Biden is able to win the White House, what do you think the first priority should be?
I still believe our first priority is going to be to get out of this health care, economic, and racial inequality crisis that we find ourself in. I think that is going to have to be the priority of the next administration regardless. I know it will be a priority of a Biden-Harris administration. I know it will be a priority of a Democratic Senate should there be one.
Hopefully, by that time, we will have a vaccine either right there on the horizon that we can see, or we would have started to ramp up the distribution of a vaccine. That is going to be incredibly important, to make sure that we get out of this appropriately, to get out of that safely and healthy.
As part of that, we’ve got to deal with the economic fallout. Today, unemployment numbers were announced. They’re down more, but the decrease in unemployment is slowing somewhat, as predicted by most of the economists and the Federal Reserve. We’re going to continue to see relatively high unemployment.
As we’re seeing the back end of the health crisis, hopefully we will also be able to then do stimulus work. That’s going to involve federal government programs to some extent — putting federal dollars in infrastructure and roads and bridges and schools. Broadband is going to be a key issue. But we’ll never overlook the racial inequalities that we’re seeing playing out across this country. It is a historic moment. We can’t let it pass.
Voting rights is going to be a very important part of a Biden-Harris administration, and trying to remove the barriers that still exist of discrimination in this country, whether it is in jobs, education, or health care. I think removing those barriers or discrimination will also be a high priority.
What do you think about this national conversation about race and policing? How do you think Congress should address this issue? The US House recently passed the Justice in Policing Act — is there anywhere it falls short or could be improved?
I’m a co-sponsor of that bill, and I believe in the bill and what it’s trying to achieve. Having said that, I think we’re all open. Sen. Harris, Sen. [Cory] Booker — everybody is open to input from law enforcement and others in the community about how it can be better. Because the one thing that we want to do is protect our police department. That’s not a “defund the police” bill.
You know, Joe Biden, or me, or Kamala Harris, we don’t want to defund the police. What we do want to do is make sure that we can get more training, get rid of that swath of systemic racism that we know exists. We see it play out in front of us every day on our computers and our TVs, but we also know, as Joe Biden has said many times, that the overwhelming number of law enforcement out there are absolutely dedicated to service to their communities. They’re dedicated to doing the right thing. We need to get their help in trying to make the changes necessary. That means more transparency, and how excessive use of force cases are investigated and possibly prosecuted.
It means more resources to law enforcement, to make sure that we have that transparency, that we have some independent bodies, and that we have more training for deescalation of events, more training about racism, and even the implicit bias that folks might not even know that they have. I think those are the things that we can do.
And that bill is a really good step in the right direction. It could get amended some, but I think folks are open to trying to get something accomplished. I think that would be a really important first step; it would send a great message to the American people that Congress and the Senate is very serious about this. We take it very seriously.
And then we go from there, because I do believe there’s so many things we can do with the Fair Housing Act, with health care. We need to expand Medicaid in states like Alabama that haven’t done it. It would give so many more folks the access to health care: Black and white and brown, as a matter of fact. What we need to do is then start systematically looking at what’s still creating barriers, whether the law itself is creating barriers, or whether it’s the application of the law. Start removing those barriers. I think that’s going to be a real priority going forward.
Given your history as a civil rights attorney, how far do you think Alabama and the nation as a whole have come on race? And how far do we still have to go?
It’s hard to measure that now. Clearly we’ve come a long way. I grew up in a segregated South, and we are so far removed from the South of the 1950s and early ’60s. But clearly, we have a long way to go. What I think was happening, to some extent, is that we kind of just got soft on it a little bit. We assumed — especially with the election of Barack Obama — that things were just better and things were going to continue to get better. And actually things started getting worse.
We saw more hate groups rising up, we saw more hate on the internet, and things started rolling back. All of a sudden, this Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision started the demise of the Voting Rights Act. And states started enacting laws I believe have the effect of discriminating. It’s not because people don’t like Black folks in this country, they just don’t like the way they vote. It’s a political power issue as much as anything else, and that has created some backlash that we’ve got to overcome. It’s hard to measure how far we’ve come, especially since we’ve slid back a good bit, but we clearly have a long ways to go.
There’s this new group of really interesting Democratic candidates in the South: Adrian Perkins in Louisiana, Mike Espy in Mississippi, Jamie Harrison in South Carolina, Rev. Raphael Warnock in Georgia, Cal Cunningham in North Carolina, M.J. Hegar in Texas, and Amy McGrath in Kentucky. Are Democratic politics in the South seeing a revival?
I do think it’s a trend. It’s a trend because of changing demographics. But it’s also a trend because I think Democrats for too long in the South decided they really weren’t going to be Democrats and stand up for working people. They were going to let Republicans define them on a lot of social issues. They claimed the power. We had a solid Democratic South in name only. It was never solid Democrat, it was a bunch of different factions of something called the Democratic Party.
I think what you’re seeing now is a revival in the sense that people are saying, we really need to be who we are. We need to be the party that looks out for the little guy, the party that is not anti-business by any stretch, because the little guy depends on those businesses in order to have jobs and to have the economy that we need. But we need to make sure that everybody has access to good health care. We need to make sure that everybody does, and we need to make sure people know that it’s the Democrats who often have their back, and we’re going to work with you on all the issues that you care about. Those kitchen table issues that I ran on in 2017? Those are so much more important now.
It wasn’t Doug Jones, but it was kind of the Doug Jones movement we had in Alabama: to be who we are, to care for people, and look out for our neighbors. And to know that we have more in common than we have to divide us, to try to find that common ground and exploit the common ground and not the divisions. Republicans in the South have been great about exploiting the divisions and Democrats have let them do it. No more. We’re going to exploit the common ground that we have among everyone in the South and across the country, by the way.
The segregationist Southern Democrats of the 1950s and ’60s — do you think that lives on in the minds of some Black voters in the South, and has caused any hesitancy to stick with the Democratic Party?
No, it’s completely changing. I quite frankly reject the term “Southern Democrats” to some extent because of the connotation. We’re Democrats in the South, and the connotation earlier I think has gone away.
They only have to look at somebody like my history of doing the church bombing cases, standing up and working in the Black Belt, and trying to get down in the weeds to make sure all people and all boats are lifted. I don’t just go down and talk to Black churches in the Black Belt and say one thing and then go up to the Chamber of Commerce in Huntsville, Alabama, and say something different — those messages are the same. Now, everybody’s got their local issues, but the messages are still the same about what it’s going to take to move Alabama forward.
The South has been the place of so many divisions in this country. It started right here in the South, so many of our divisions. The South should be the epicenter for where the healing begins. I absolutely believe that we can do that — and I believe we are doing it, slowly but surely.
What do you think people who are kind of on the outside looking in don’t understand about campaigning in the South and politics there?
Well, it is complicated. It’s gotten more complicated, because I think Democrats didn’t compete in the South for so, so long — trying to be Republican-lite or whatever you call it. They just didn’t compete. There is a conditioning almost where people have been voting Republican so long, it’s surprising to them and there’s a hesitancy to cross over, but it’s happening more and more.
If you look at demographically how the South is changing, we’ve got more businesses coming into the South, people from all over the country are moving [here]. That’s young folks, it’s college-educated folks. We’re trying to keep our folks in our rural areas where they are as well and not lose our rural areas. The last thing I want to do is see our rural areas go by the wayside, but the South demographics are changing.
You’ve also got a younger generation that is now coming of age, not just voting age. They’re getting engaged more in their careers and their businesses, some are owning their businesses. They grew up at a time that’s different than the time I grew up. They grew up at a time where they went to school with people of a different race, they went to school and had friends who were gay. And so a lot of those social norms, they don’t see it the same way.
The conventional wisdom is that President Trump is still quite popular in Alabama. Do you think his standing in the state has diminished at all?
I don’t think there’s any question his standing has diminished. I don’t think anybody should discount the fact that Trump won so many states in the South by as much as he did, because there was a dislike for Secretary Clinton. Just that simple. We’ve seen it time and time again, we saw it play out in 2016. I’ve seen it in the polling and numbers throughout the South and in Alabama, since I started polling in my race in 2017.
But I also think there are a lot of people in Alabama that traditionally voted Republican who voted for Donald Trump. They didn’t particularly like what they were seeing and hearing but always assumed that once he became president, he would be very presidential and they haven’t seen that. There’s a lot of Trump fatigue; they’re tired of the tweets, they wish he would govern instead of just tweeting. They wish he would follow the science and listen to health care professionals, instead of insisting that he knows everything about everything. There’s a lot of that out there.
He will carry Alabama for sure for a lot of factors, but I do not believe that he will carry Alabama anywhere close to the way he carried it in 2016.
What do you think of Joe Biden’s idea to enroll people who are in the Medicaid expansion gap into his public option proposal, given that Alabama is a state that hasn’t expanded Medicaid?
Look, if that’s the way to get my people insured, then I am all for it. I’m not for Medicare-for-all, and neither is Joe Biden. I’ve said that very clearly. Too many people like their health insurance plans through their employers; too many unions have fought for those health insurance plans. But we do have that gap in Alabama — we didn’t expand Medicaid.
Before this pandemic, we would have had 326,000 Alabamians who would have been eligible for Medicaid that did not get it. They make too much money to be eligible for Medicaid as it exists in Alabama now, yet they didn’t make enough money to get good health insurance. We need to help those folks as best we can and giving a public option — or if not going that far — just giving the states the incentives to expand Medicaid.
I think if we could pass my bill, the SAME Act (States Achieving Medicaid Expansion) to give states that three-year window of 100 percent reimbursement [from the federal government], I believe Alabama would do it. They see their sister states like Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri doing it. They see the billions of dollars we’ve lost. I think Joe’s proposal is a good one. I still would love to see the Affordable Care Act tweaked instead of dismantled and do it some way through the Affordable Care Act.
I wanted to get your thoughts on filibuster reform. Do you think that’s an option Democrats should pursue if you are in the majority in the Senate but you’re dealing with an obstinate Republican minority?
I know there’s a lot of talk about that. And also know, if Joe Biden is president of the United States, Biden has a 40-year history of working with Republicans. And no matter what happens during the election season, they all like him; I’ve heard that time and time again. Joe is the kind of guy that’s a Senate institutionalist. I really believe he will want to work with Republicans to try to get things done. This ability to just go from one Senate majority to the other with or without the president, it’s not good for the country.
I think the filibuster rule is a way that you have to reach out. That’s what I do every day when I’m in the Senate, and sometimes I have to reach out within my own party to try to pull people together. I think Joe’s gonna give this a chance, and I’m very hopeful that Senate Republicans will take the opportunity to move together.
Let’s get the Senate back to some regular order where we can debate the issues of the day, have amendments on the issues of the day, vote on them up or down, let the president do what he’s going to do. But give the president an opportunity to find that common ground.
It is by finding common ground that we move forward, not by just doing it by simple whim of who happens to be in the majority, because then you’re gonna see, just like we’re seeing with executive orders playing out — a new president comes in, gets rid of all his predecessor’s executive orders, those new ones that we don’t need to see that’s happening with legislation.
We need to see some consistency. I think filibuster rule, the 60-vote margin, is a way to do that.
Alabama is one of the states that is now seeing a spike in coronavirus cases with colleges and universities going back. From talking to your constituents, how is the virus impacting their daily lives?
Well, that’s a pretty complicated question you just asked, Ella. Alabama’s numbers are actually improving. Yes, we have seen some spikes on a couple of college campuses. But overall, we are seeing a decline in the number of new cases, the number of hospitalizations, a decline in the deaths. We are cautiously optimistic about where we’re headed.
Wearing masks got so politicized back in the summer, and people just … refused to recognize that it would help. It forced our governor [Kay Ivey] — and I was very proud of her for doing it — the only Republican governor in the Deep South to issue a statewide mask order. People started getting it, they started wearing their masks more. And lo and behold, it’s starting to work — our numbers are going down. I’m hoping people will see that it still works, because the virus is still out there.
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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year
Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.
Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.
So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.
Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.
Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)
During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.
Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)
Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.
Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)
Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.
Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)
This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.
Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)
If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.
Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)
With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.
Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)
The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.
Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)
Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.
Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)
Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.
Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)
The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.
The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.
The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.
The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.
Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)
We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.
Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)
The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.
Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)
The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.
Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)
Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.
Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)
Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.
Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)
The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.
Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)
With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.
Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)
Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.
Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)
The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.
Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)
The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.
Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained
Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.
In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.
Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.
It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.
Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.
Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.
Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.
The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”
At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.
On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.
That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.
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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year
From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.
Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.
From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.
“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.
Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.
The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.
Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.
Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.
Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.
The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.
Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.
Calls for urgent reduction of violence
Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.
Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.
“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.
There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.
1/4 I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever. https://t.co/hVl4b032W6
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) October 27, 2020
A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.
But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.
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